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DOs and DON’Ts of Creating OCs.

I'm not a brilliant or fantasmically talented writer, but I know a decent OC when I see one. Or at least a non-crappy one.
I think we know how this works. Here we go…

***

1. DO – Try to vary your OCs’ personalities. In the real world, if everyone had the same awesome, flawless character, life would be mind-numbingly BORING. Also, not everyone is nice/horrible/depressed/energetic all the time. (Unless, of course, you want to use that as a flaw.)

2. DON’T – get too hung up on making profiles for your characters. Profiles are for procrastinators who want to make a fantastic character without getting started on the actual story. I was guilty of it too, before I realised how boring filling out the same form over and over again was.
Try describing them in the story, THEN make notes to help you remember stupid boring details like their star-sign and eye colour so you don’t accidentally change them halfway through the story.
A profile looks like this.

Name: Barb Dwyer
Age: 17 ½
Star sign: Who cares?
Hair: Pink and Purple, long and straight
Eyes: Lilac and green depending on her mood
Favourite food: Ponies (wait, what?)


ZZZ, right? But there’s nothing in there that you can’t just as easily develop by using the story. Don’t believe me? Look.

Barb Dwyer sat gracefully in one of the plastic chairs dotted around the café. She flicked her chemically enhanced pink bangs out of her eyes as she took another bite of her pony-burger, her large lilac eyes briefly flashing with a strange green light.
“Your hair is so long!” her friend Madison exclaimed enviously.
“I know” sighed Barb, her eyes returning to their natural colour. “I’m thinking about getting a perm.”


Ok, so if I actually read this in a story I would lose my lunch, not to mention my faith in mankind, but you get the idea.

3. DO – avoid making all of your characters into Zoolander (really, really, ridiculously good-looking) unless there’s a specific reason, like the story is set in Japan where everybody is a cross-dressing, pretty J-rocker (har de har har) or they’re vampires. ‘Cause we all know that bloodsuckers are automatically hawt.

Also, try varying their ages a little when appropriate. While two women working in the same hair salon might have different tastes in fashion, one might be a bit older and more classy, and one might be young and hip. It helps prevent you from turning your story into a Japanese RPG game – fun and colourful, but with characters all the same age and far too pretty for their own good.

4. DON’T – Just insert your OC into a fandom and then make the fandom revolve around them. People read fan-fiction because they’re FANS. Meaning the only people they want the fandom to revolve around are their own OCs. Or maybe (god forbid) the CHARACTERS.

5. DO – take the time to research the countries your OCs were born/raised in if you are not already familiar with them. For example, someone who grew up in Romania will quite possibly have a different upbringing to someone who grew up in Arkansas.

6. DON’T – spend forever on a character’s name. Out of all the names in the world, don’t be so pretentious as to believe that there is only ONE that could possibly be just right for your character, for Pete’s sake. Names are nice, but there are a hundred and one other more important things for you to be bleating on about. Like, for instance, THE PLOTLINE.
Very few people have the perfect name, and even fewer actually like their own. Mine sounds like something out of a Jane Austin novel, and not in a good way. My point is, names aren’t really all that important.

7. DO – Give your villain(s) a motive for their… (Villainousness? Villainry? Villianousery?) …evilness. Do they want revenge on the hero? Does the hero pose a threat to them? Do they want something from the hero? Power? Fame? Lusty wenches? If all else fails, bad people often like money. It might not be the most original plot device, (understatement of the century) but hey, at least it makes them human.

8. DON’T – be upset if someone says they’d hate your character in real life. Decent characters get bashed every day, like Misa Amane. (Well I liked her.)
Some characters are even made to be hated, like Holden Caulfield and Mr Darcy… screw it, everyone loves Mr Darcy, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t want to round-house kick him in the face if they met him in real life.

9. DO – try to refrain from using your OC to fulfil your own sexual fantasies with either existing fandom characters or other OCs of your design. I know it’s hard, darlings, but nothing grinds my gears more than reading something fairly decently written only to discover that halfway through it turns into trashy soft porn that might have been written by a love-struck thirteen year-old, except with better syntax.

10. DON’T – copy from an existing fandom of ANY kind when you’re running low on ideas. I’ve had a friend stealing stuff from the Final Fantasy series (and various anime), and trust me, it was nasty. It’s not worth it, dudes. You will be caught eventually and probably flamed. DON’T DO IT.

11. DO – write lots of yummy original slash – oops, did I say that out loud?

…Oh, who cares? Nobody takes this junk seriously anyway, so I might as well have fun with it. Smut’s more fun when you’ve never ‘met’ the characters before, as dodgy as  that may sound. It’s like going to a bar, getting utterly legless and letting your friends hire a pair of strippers for you and I’m going to stop now before this gets any more out of hand.

Ahem.

12. DON’T – feel that you have to give your hero (I really should say ‘protagonist’; it sounds much fancier) a traumatic past just so he can measure up to already existing protagonists. Nor do they have to have a traumatic past in order to qualify for a few bouts of angst throughout the story. People angst for different reasons, although someone orphaned at birth would probably angst more than a contractor who just got fired.

13. DO – Ask older people (preferably more experienced writers) if your OC is ‘believable’ and if there’s anything you can do to give them a little more depth. Don’t ask your best friend or someone you only know online, or anyone like that. It doesn’t matter if they’re the best writer you know; if they’re not older than you (assuming you’re a teenager or whatever) then they’re probably not going to have much more life experience than you, which defeats the whole point of asking them.

14. DON’T – give your character a European accent just because it's 'sexy'. People from Ireland, Australia and Britain also have accents. People from India, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, everywhere in the WORLD has its own unique accent! All you Americans, drive into the next state and chances are you'll be hearing an accent way different from your own.(I've never met anyone from The Czech Republic, but I'm sure their accent is cool too.) If you're going to make a character from another country, then make it part of their identity properly. And I don't just mean a French person that likes baguettes - give them a little quirk that comes from their culture - apparently shoving your hand in someone's face is super insulting in Greece. I read that on the internet. See, it's not hard to look these things up. (I wouldn't recommend getting your dirty paws up in ANYONE'S grill, by the way.)

Writing bits of accents here and there is nice too - like someone with a Cockney accent saying 'wiv' (with) and 'luv' (love). Just don't go overboard, especially if your dialogue-writing skills aren't that great already - and REALLY don't go overboard if you haven't got a clue about how the accent works. Or you'll just come off as, at worst, a mouth-breathing basement-dwelling racist, and at best, a bit daft.

15. DO – experiment with your OCs! Make all kinds of different characters, practice writing them interacting with each other, socialising, doing whatever… (Mowing the lawn, drinking coffee, arm wrestling…) it doesn’t matter if all you end up with is a few pages of illegible crap – no one’s going to read it, even you. It's just to get a feel for the characters and get those ideas flowing.

16. DON’T – describe all of your characters down to the last, most insignificant detail in the first paragraph/page/chapter of your story. (Or ever.) There’s NOTHING fun about being force-fed every single boring detail about someone when you hardly know them, and it leaves you thinking ‘wow, I just totally lost interest in this story.’ I’m not even kidding.
A good idea is to focus mainly on the characters’ most distinctive characteristics. Anne Rice (amongst like a million other writers, but I like her best) does this, and not necessarily in the same paragraph. What I liked about the way she described Lestat in ‘The Vampire Lestat’ was unearthing (pun intended!) little bits and pieces about his physical appearance throughout the book, leaving you to imagine the rest for yourself. Although that was in the first person, and nobody goes around talking at length about how they look… unless they’re REALLY narcissistic.

Now then, how about a lesson in picking out specific and interesting traits to describe in someone?
For example, let’s take a look at Owen Wilson, the actor. First of all, he’s blonde. It’s obvious, but if we’re describing him to someone who has never seen him before in their life, it’s a good start.

“Owen Wilson is a blond actor.”

Now, we could say that he is white, (and male, for that matter) but since we’ve established that he’s a natural blonde, we don’t really have to. Also, his name is Owen, making him quite obviously a man, see? Be selective.

Now, what about his face? Well, he often looks like he’s in desperate need of a razor, so let’s mention his stubble.

“Owen Wilson is a blond actor with prickly stubble sprouting from his chin.”

Wow, that doesn’t sound very attractive, but don’t worry! Let’s carry on. Now let’s have a look at his eyes – the windows into the soul, if you will. Ok, if you were a rabid fangirl, you’d probably start spouting some rot about his eyes being ‘gentle and kind and serene’… ew, right? Slushier than snow in London. How about keeping our wits about us and actually looking at the man like a human being, hmm?
Ok, so his eyes crinkle up when he smiles – well, doesn’t that say a lot about his personality?

“Owen Wilson is a blond actor with prickly stubble sprouting from his chin. The laughter lines around his eyes betray his good sense of humour.”

So there you have it – two short sentences describing the man fairly clearly, and we haven’t even mentioned his nose yet!
So it’s not a very well-written description, but the syntax and flowery prose is up to you. It’s a damn sight better than three paragraphs describing his freckles or something equally as mundane.

17. DO – feel free to be a little more descriptive when you write short stories. Although spending more than a paragraph describing any single character is pushing it. Unless they’re really, really, ridiculously good loo- um, important.  

18. DON’T – rant forever about a new, awesome OC you’ve created and then never write a story with them in it. Writing can’t be forced, but why go to all that trouble making a new plaything and never actually playing with it? ‘Sides, getting round to starting a story is harder than actually writing it.
Mary-sues are a fact of life, just like ‘girly-boys have the most annoying fangirls’ and 'If you play the cello you will probably get laid'.
BUT...
Awesome characters are like the toys you used to get in kinder surprise eggs. (Before they turned to shit. Dammit, I used to get the coolest stuff in those eggs.)

Edit: DO - read Dreamdeer's comments about #1 and #12, RIGHT NOW. Especially #12. Unless you'd rather take my word as gospel, which doesn't bother me in the slightest. DO IT.

Edit #2: I've edited rule #1, having educated myself on a number of things (Shut up, reading Christopher Hitchens counts as education!) since my discussion with Dreamdeer. Not that anyone notices these things or anything.
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:iconnekovision:
NekoVision Featured By Owner Aug 16, 2014
This guide will be useful!
Reply
:iconlittleblueraccoon:
littleblueraccoon Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2014  Student Writer
This made me laugh so many times, especially the Zoolander joke! Good advice, by the way. :)
Reply
:iconanastasia-frost:
Anastasia-Frost Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2013
I think my OC is ok
Reply
:iconepicnessofart:
EpicnessOfArt Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2013
Thank you so much for posting this. It's super helpful, I came across this before I joined DA, and following you tips transformed my writing from something that sounded like badly written fanfiction (no offense to fanfiction, I really like it, and read them a lot :) ) into something much better, and more original with better developed characters. I still have a long way to go with my writing skills, but you really helped me get a better start. Thanks again!
Reply
:iconllawlietz:
Llawlietz Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2013
Hey, glad it helped! Have you posted any of your writing on DA?
Reply
:iconepicnessofart:
EpicnessOfArt Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2013
Not yet, but I plan to soon. :)
Reply
:icondaylentheshipper:
DaylenTheShipper Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013
I have a question.

Could you make a good Fanfiction with all the characters in it with your OC? Like if it's well planned and all. I wan't to do that, but I'm worried to do so.
Reply
:iconllawlietz:
Llawlietz Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013
IMO, sure, there are heaps of good fanfics with original characters in them. I read a really good FFVII one a long time ago where the author had filled out the backstories of the canon characters and given them family members and such. I think it's called 'Stake Out' or something.

Anyway, you shouldn't be worried, haha. It's just fanfiction. You're doing it as much for your own enjoyment as anyone else, so unless you write like a chimp with a typewriter, you'll be sweet :)
Reply
:icondaylentheshipper:
DaylenTheShipper Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013
:) Thanks, I was curious before I started, thanks again! :iconglompplz:
Reply
:icondancingsnowangels:
dancingsnowangels Featured By Owner May 12, 2012
Wow this is really insightful, at least I now know that my friend's story that she is working on is well written and not over descriptive.
Reply
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